Every product has a story to tell and the pet food produced by Lucy and Charlie Postins’ company, The Honest Kitchen, has a better one than most.
Lucy Postins CEO and founder of The Honest Kitchen, started making pet food stuffed with healthy, all-natural ingredients to solve her own dog’s health issues and began selling the pet food she created to help other owners get their furry friends healthy and keep them that way.
But at pet food trade shows when people saw the dehydrated dog and cat food, Postins says, “They thought it was cat litter.”
For years, the packaging didn’t seem to matter. Started in 2002, The Honest Kitchen had found its market of early adopters who wanted the all-natural, dehydrated food for their pets, and for almost 12 years, sales climbed by an average of 35% a year. In 2013, The Honest Kitchen had $17 million in revenue and employed 26 people. But Postins thought the package needed to work harder to tell its story.
“We wanted it to be much more intuitive to mainstream buyers who are used to kibble and canned food,” says Postins, adding there are more pets out there that need her healthy pet food.
A passionate partnership
Finding a firm that understood Postins’ passion to help with the redesign was as easy as turning to a friend, literally. Shawn Parr heads up Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design firm, and he has been Postins’ mentor and friend for years. He’s also on The Honest Kitchen’s board and is a minority stakeholder in the company.
In turn, The Honest Kitchen was one of the founding members of an unusual offshoot of Bulldog Drummond—Bulldog Drummond Venture (BDV). It’s a program designed to help small startups accelerate their growth, with BDV providing assistance to help them move ahead, whether that’s equity, planning or marketing.
Enter Megan Pilla, chief content officer at Bulldog Drummond. She says this long-term relationship and intertwining of business and passion made it easy for her firm to step in and understand Postins’ value, culture and mission—to help as many animals as possible through healthy food—and sort out how best to do that.
The result, says Pilla, is The Honest Kitchen had a partner, someone who understood its product and mission.
“We really do care about the end results,” says Pilla.
Consumers’ true concerns
For Pilla, starting with consumer research meant taking a step back and finding out what consumers really wanted to know about pet food.
She already knew Postins had a great story to tell about helping with pet health issues via dehydrated, food made from great ingredients, in short, she says, proper food for pets. That’s also the story Postins wanted to tell on the package with a focus on why and how the product is healthy, what dehydration is and how that process and the ingredients make it different than kibble.
To find out what consumers really want to know, Pilla tapped Alternate Routes. Bulldog Drummond has partnered with them for years and the firm has done research for other trendy firms such as the frozen desert company, Pinkberry. Turns out when it comes to pet food, consumers want to know two things: what’s in it and what do they have to do to feed it to their pet.
The box talks
One success of the previous packaging, retained in the new redesign, is the fiber box with an interior bag, much like breakfast cereal. It tells consumers this is not kibble. Unfortunately, the former box sported photographs of the ingredients and lots of text and explanations about what’s in it and how healthy the ingredients are.
The boxes were also emblazoned with clever names such as Force, Prowl, Preference and Love, identifying the kind of food in the box, whether it included grain, no grain, chicken, turkey or beef. The bad news is the cute names didn’t work. “Consumers,” Postins admits, “had to look hard and long at the shelf wondering, ‘So, for my Yorkshire Terrier, which should I get?’”
As for the photographs, Pilla says it is almost impossible to make a photograph of raw chicken look good. The front also sported a see-through window showing the product, which does look a bit like cat litter. It’s easy to see that someone could miss the text instructions, “Just add water …”
Drawing a solution
Back to the consumers. They want to know what’s in it and what they have to do. Pilla and Postins wanted to play up the freshness and wholesomeness of the ingredients, and photographs didn’t work.
Once again, the solution was at its fingertips.
For some time, Postins had been following the antics and art of illustrator Natalya Zahn, who wrote and illustrated a blog about her dog Oscar. The designer had started the blog, oscaratemy muffin.com, two years ago as a place to experiment with a new form of illustrations, ink drawings with color. “It was a creative sandbox for myself,” says Zahn. The blog is filled with amazing illustrations of her dog Oscar and natural pet food recipes. When Bulldog Drummond called, Zahn says she couldn’t say yes fast enough.
Zahn and The Honest Kitchen had connected earlier when Zahn had first started her blog and started networking with others who were interested in feeding healthy fare to their pets. “I connected with as many people as possible in the dog and design world,” she says.
Turns out The Honest Kitchen was as smitten with her work as she was with its mission and product.
Zahn’s illustrations focus on rendering the natural world artfully yet accurately. So she draws Oscar, food and other things in the natural world with color, playfulness and clarity, using ink drawings, watercolor and Adobe Photoshop. “That’s my sweet spot, combining digital technique with handmade art,” says Zahn. “I use the computer to marry layers of traditional media to create a more dynamic image.”
Once Zahn was on the project, she received a long list of ingredients from eggs to cabbages to roast chicken as well as a box of photographs of dogs and cats, the pets of The Honest Kitchen employees. Nine of those honorary employees of The Honest Kitchen are included on the new packaging. (Oscar, Zahn’s dog, however, does not appear on the packages.)
Zahn updated the two primary, large watercolor-like silhouettes of the cat and dog to make them more accurate and lifelike, while the silhouettes in the logo were unchanged.
She also did the graphics for the packaging, including the pet bowl on the front with the big drop of water over it conveying in a bright, blue way to mix the product with water, while the see-through window was moved to the side of the package.
The illustrations of the ingredients create a culinary/artisanal feel that reflects how involved Postins was in developing each recipe for The Honest Kitchen. That handcrafted feel led Pilla to search for fonts to reinforce that style. They agreed custom handcrafted fonts weren’t viable long-term, and finally agreed on tall, thin fonts, Shetchetik and Walden for the headlines, and for the rest of the text, YWFT Absent Grotesque, YWFT Signature and Myriad.
The names of each product such as Verve or Grace came down in size and descriptions such as “All Natural Cage Free Turkey,” were upsized.
Consumer research told them while consumers didn’t connect with the various names, they did connect the color families of the products that Fluffly or Fido preferred. The color connections were kept and while some shades were changed slightly to work with the ingredients, the tints still tell the story of the ingredients. For example, turkey’s key color is blue, chicken is green citron and beef packaging highlights reds and browns.
The redesign features one major color change. Now the laminated full-box label is printed on white paper instead of brown Kraft paper though the box manufacturer stayed the same. This change makes all the visuals pop and adds one more fast recognition element. A cream background tells consumers the food contains grains while a full-white background declares the pet food is grain free.
Now that’s a story to tell.